Respect teachers, blame cheaters

Show respect for educators by blaming the cheaters rather than the tests,  argues Ed Sector’s Kevin Carey in The New Republic. Blaming the recent cheating scandals on the pressure to produce results is like giving Bernie Madoff a pass because he was under pressure to make money for is clients, Carey writes.

. . .  every time news of cheating breaks, opponents of standardized testing and accountability in public education have been quick to deflect blame from morally challenged educators and aim it toward the tests themselves. When asked about Atlanta, noted school reform apostate Diane Ravitch pointed the finger at the federal No Child Left Behind law, saying that, when high-stakes incentives are attached to test scores, we are “virtually inviting” teachers to cheat. At the Daily Kos, readers were told that “the tests, and the stakes attached to them, are the issue. No rational person can look at cheating this widespread and decide its existence is about the individuals, however blameworthy their behavior may be.” One Atlanta-area teacher put it this way: “Anybody whose job is tied to performance, it is a setup.”

Testing opponents often invoke “Campbell’s Law,” which holds that “[t]he more any quantitative social indicator [e.g. standardized testing] is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures.”

As a way of understanding education policy, or anything else, Campbell’s Law is both inaccurate and banal. In reality, most people are quite adept at resisting corruption pressure, which is why the vast majority of teachers whose students take standardized tests do not cheat.

The good news, Carey writes, that “public schools finally care enough about student performance that some ethically challenged educators have chosen to cheat.”  It’s worth lying about.

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Comments

  1. Stuart Buck says:

    I continue to be perplexed that people like Ravitch, who laud themselves as standing up for teachers, are simultaneously so eager to bash testing that they unwittingly put forth such a cynical view of teachers’ honesty and capabilities.

  2. supersub says:

    I blame the teachers, but for practicality’s sake state eds should be held accountable for creating a system that makes it easy to cheat.

  3. CarolineSF says:

    Ravitch isn’t opposed to testing and doesn’t bash it. She (and, really, all reasonable people with a shred of common sense) opposes the high stakes attached to testing — the fact that a teacher is threatened with the loss of her job and the school where she works is threatened with annihilation over test scores. As teachers have limited control over their students’ test results, it’s natural that this encourages cheating.

    Inspired by a clueless commentator on another blog who claimed that DMV written tests have similar stakes attached (obviously that’s not the case), I WOULD like to propose that we try this — not with the written test but with the driving test, where the results are entirely based on the tester’s observation and judgment.

    So if the cumulative results of the driving tests don’t meet a standard pre-set by someone with no experience in administering driving tests, the tester will be fired and that DMV branch shut down. If the test results exceed that standard, the tester gets a raise.

    We would see a sudden epidemic of blindness among DMV testers, put it that way.

  4. I live in the Middle East, and we have high-stakes testing to obtain the high-school degree. Cheating became so commonplace in schools (teachers helping students with exam answers during the test) that they’ve now made it forbidden to take the test in your own school!

  5. A poorly defined set of success criteria with negative consequences attached based on the test *will* encourage cheating.

    Let’s take a scenario: Teacher A must meet a success criterion that 90% percent of her students test at or above grade-level at the end of her year to keep her job. Of her students, 80% started the year above grade-level, 20% started at grade-level, and 0% started below grade-level. Will Teacher A cheat? Not a chance. The success criterion is easily achievable through normal means.

    Teacher Z, meanwhile, must meet the same success criterion to keep his job. However, his class came in a little differently: 0% started at or above grade-level, 20% started less than a grade behind, and 80% started multiple grades behind. Will Teacher Z cheat? I’d bet on it. Meeting the success criterion is simply not possible without cheating.

    Success criteria written into state and federal laws are applied indiscriminately to all teachers and schools within the reach of the particular law. Using the example above they will invariably produce a spectrum of teachers from Teacher A (with no incentive to cheat) to Teacher Z (with every incentive to cheat). Even an absurdly low bar will be inaccessibly high to at least one teacher given a particularly bad situation.

    The problem is not the act of assigning a teacher a set of success criteria and gauging their performance based on it. Nor is it attaching negative consequences to failure to meet those success criteria, though they should come after collaborative improvement efforts. The problem is blindly setting both the success criteria and the negative consequences for failure. Legislators, by there distance from the situation in the classroom, will always and forever blindly set these.

    Long story short, putting these success criteria into laws will always produce cheaters.

  6. Stuart Buck says:

    Well, it’s far truer to say that Ravitch bashes testing than to say that reformers bash teachers. Look at her Twitter feed, which often features the theory that testing is a conspiracy for companies to make money. And look at her oft-repeated (if inaccurate) claim that other nations don’t test every year — she’s making a point about the very existence of regular testing, not the stakes attached to it.

  7. I don’t know. Cheating is unethical but so is current law that requires teachers and schools to do the impossible. Particularly in our current economic climate, I find it difficult to blame employees who are trying to hold on to their jobs. Please read more about my view of this issue at http://www.educritics.com/?p=19.

  8. CarolineSF says:

    I dispute and refute, Stuart. To paraphrase a famous quote of the past, everything in that comment is inaccurate, possibly including “and” and “but.”

  9. Cheating is cheating and honest people don’t do it regardless of the circumstances, no matter who is or is not looking at the time and no matter what the stakes. Pushing kids through the system without teaching them means ruining their lives and there can be no possible excuse for such behavior. I would vote for laws to make such behavior harshly illegal.

  10. Stuart Buck says:

    The word “refute” doesn’t mean what you seem to think it means.

  11. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Stuart: 1
    Caroline: 0

    Prete?

    Allez!

  12. Mark Roulo says:

    Inspired by a clueless commentator on another blog who claimed that DMV written tests have similar stakes attached (obviously that’s not the case), I WOULD like to propose that we try this — not with the written test but with the driving test, where the results are entirely based on the tester’s observation and judgment.

    So if the cumulative results of the driving tests don’t meet a standard pre-set by someone with no experience in administering driving tests, the tester will be fired and that DMV branch shut down. If the test results exceed that standard, the tester gets a raise.

    If you replace “tester” with “driving school” in the second paragraph, I think you would have an easy time getting people to agree to your proposal.

  13. Long story short, putting these success criteria into laws will always produce cheaters.

    It’s the cheating that produces the cheaters.

  14. bandit,

    Create incentives perverse enough, and you can get *anyone* to violate their morals. This has been proven time and time again in the history of man, yet because we live in a modern society that has it pretty good we forget how flexible morals can be in a crunch.

    Go back to my scenario, if you’re teacher Z, you’ve got three choices: quit now, get fired, or cheat. Which would you do?

  15. CarolineSF says:

    Adding to Quincy’s scenario, another sword over teacher Z’s head (added to “get fired”) is: Your school is shut down, so all your colleagues lose their jobs and the students are displaced.

    You can try keeping score that way, Michael, but it doesn’t mean anything till the game is over. We saw what happened with Edison Schools, and we’ll see it again.

    Well, yes, Mark, your scenario involving the driving school would make sense, but it’s not comparable. There simply would be no driving schools left — they’d immediately vanish.

  16. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Don’t mind me. I’m just the audience. Pass the peanuts.

    (NB: Yes, it’s true, everyone breaks. But there’s a huge difference between being fired, or even going bankrupt, let’s say, and being tortured for weeks and not allowed to die. Let us do try to keep some perspective about this. The incentives don’t really matter when we’re talking about stakes this small.)

  17. Roger Sweeny says:

    No, the driving schools wouldn’t vanish. In fact, I suspect very few of them would be shut down. The difference is this. Teenagers desperately want to have a license and be able to drive–so they do what they have to. They are not nearly as interested in what they are supposed to learn in school.

    Which brings up the radical question, “What should kids really get out of school?”

  18. CarolineSF says:

    Well, that’s a valid point, Roger — though I suppose it depends on how high the bar was set for them. I know quite a few kids who haven’t passed their driving test the first time.

    I see, Michael. Well, I could easily fail in a competition for who makes the case most effectively. But check back in a few years to see whose position was vindicated in the end.

  19. Quincy – Sure, assuming the administration is incompetent! Why wouldn’t they instead look for how much improvement was achieved over the year.

    Try a real example, my English class in 8th grade: If they’d been tested at the start of the year, I’m sure 85-90% would have been found at or above grade level. At the end of the year, *no one* was prepared for 9th grade. And the same would have been true for every class, every year, for most of the 30 years until this guy retired. Testing isn’t the only way the principal could have demonstrated that this teacher wasn’t bothering to teach, but it would have provided evidence that was impossible to ignore.

  20. markm,

    No administrator who hadn’t first been lobotomized would be stupid enough to set a goal like that for a teacher. The problem is that the goals are being set by the *law*, which is blind to in the classroom realities.

    Your example is why I actually support setting goals and measuring against them to gauge teacher performance at the classroom level. Actually, support is not a strong enough word… I can’t fathom not setting goals for each class in a school and measuring against them. It just makes sense.